DIY Home Theaters
Backyard Theater for Less Than $260
Ed Sweeting didn’t need to spend a fortune to make his outdoors great.
Sweeting Backyard Theater
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July 14, 2008 by Rachel Cericola

That headline is not a typo. Ed Sweeting built a full-fledged theater in his backyard for under $260. While it may not boast a huge stack of expensive, state-of-the-art equipment, it definitely makes us want to bond with Mother Nature a little more.

One day while listening to Opie & Anthony on XM Satellite Radio, Ed heard talk show host Anthony Cumia talking about growing up and how his neighbor used to show movies on a sheet in the backyard. This planted a seed for Ed, but it wasn’t until a year later that an idea started to blossom. “I was talking to my 7-year-old about the old Bay Shore Drive-In, and some of the movies my parents took me to,” Ed says. “She asked, ‘What’s a Drive-In?’” 

Ed had heard enough; now it was time for action. At first, he thought the idea of creating a backyard theater was crazy. Then he found, where over 1,000 members live, breathe and boast about their great outdoor creations. “I have gotten a lot of great ideas to improve my setup and what I show, from the pre-show, custom movie opens, cartoons, and old snack bar cartoon shorts.”

Ed’s backyard theater may take up his entire backyard, but it didn’t put much of a dent in his back account. “I had no budget,” he says. “I live in one of the most expensive places in the country—Long Island. My wife and I both work hard to pay for our small 2-bedroom home and raise our two girls. There is not much left to buy theater equipment.” Luckily, he didn’t need much. Ed bought a projector from eBay for $127 (including shipping). This year, he spent another $12 on electrical connectors for his speaker wires, and another $120 on a popcorn popper. “That’s all the money I spent.”

Of course, that’s not all Ed has. He revived an old amp and pre-amp that he had purchased right out of high school. The rest was courtesy of friends and family, who have supplied the other bits and pieces that make his backyard theater possible. His father-in-law contributed an RCA DVD/VCR combo and his step-dad gave him a set of Yamaha speakers. However, it was the neighbors that provided the screen that had been gathering dust in their attic. “It was a EMH 110 Stewart motorized projection screen, Ed says. “I don’t know how old it is but a new one runs about $1,400.”

To round out the setup, Ed also did a little dumpster diving, finding that someone else’s trash was truly his treasure. “I found two broken road construction signs that stood 14-feet high,” he says. “I cut them down, painted and rebuilt them to hold up my screen.” He also built his A/V rack from materials found at his workplace, a local TV station. “I call it recycling,” Ed says. 

Even though the theater encompasses the backyard, Ed’s screen sits about 8 feet off the ground. The A/V rack is 12 feet from the screen, while speakers are mounted to the wood screen stands, and two 50-foot extension cords run around the yard. When the theater first went up last spring, it took Ed about an hour to pull the whole thing together. Today, he knows the process like the back of his hand, and can set up within 10 minutes. With such convenience, it’s easy for Ed to take the screen down at the end of every show. “My A/V cart rolls back into my garage at the end of the night,” says. 

Even though Ed wouldn’t mind an easier screen—like one of the recent blow-up models on the market—his theater gets the job done. “My girls would never know what it was like to watch movies outside, go to the snack bar, play on the playground and fall asleep in the backseat of my Dad’s old Ford. So I set out to make some new memories,” Ed says. “I love the movies, but it’s all about getting family and friends together.”

Quick Hits:
Location: Long Island, NY
Year Completed: 2007
Room Size: 50 x 50 feet
Length of Project: 7 Days
Total Cost: $259

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Rachel Cericola - Contributing Writer
Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at

Equipment List

Adcom GFA-545 100-watt Amplifier
EIKI LC-SVGA860 Projector
Proton 1100 Pre-amplifier
Stewart Filmscreen EMH 110 96x54 Screen
Yamaha Speakers (4)
Electrical Cords (2)
Popcorn Popper

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